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Thursday, September 7, 2023

REMARKS OF CAROL SPAHN, DIRECTOR OF THE PEACE CORPS, FOR THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF PEACE CORPS IN EL SALVADOR

REMARKS AS PREPARED:
Delivered on Thursday, September 7, 2023

Peace Corps Director Spahn: Buenas tardes!

It is an honor to be here in San Salvador on this historic day, as we celebrate the enduring bonds of friendship and partnership shared by the United States of America and El Salvador.

Thank you, Foreign Minister Hill, for hosting our delegation and for welcoming the Peace Corps back, once more, to the Land of Volcanoes.

And thank you to the people of El Salvador for once more opening your hearts and homes to Peace Corps Volunteers who will soon make your beautiful country their home away from home.

Since the Peace Corps’ earliest days, the Salvadoran people have generously welcomed Volunteers as partners in grassroots community projects and, in many cases, as lifelong friends.

Through the Peace Corps’ unique model of person-to-person, side-by-side partnerships, we have worked, learned, and grown together – as individuals and as a global community.

We are so, genuinely excited to start this fresh new chapter in our relationship, building upon what we've learned, upon past stories of resilience, of potential, and of transformation.

When I shared that we were renewing our partnership in El Salvador, Volunteers who served here – sometimes decades ago – could not contain their enthusiasm. I heard story after story of amazing people, inspirational work, and tremendous grit.

I will only share one with you today, but these stories are multiplied by the more than 2,300 Volunteers who served over the past six decades.

This is the story of a young man named Santos who, back in the 1990s, lived in the foothills of the Guazapa mountain range. Santos was starting to head down a bad path, on the verge of giving up on school so he could hang out with a group of other young people who ended up becoming pandilleros (gang members).

Before Santos got too far down that path, however, he met a Peace Corps Volunteer named Sheri who recognized his potential and took a special interest in him.

Sheri started to bring Santos into the Peace Corps office here in San Salvador to meet successful local role models who could help him envision a better future if he continued with his schooling. She helped him successfully pursue an educational scholarship to study English in the Salvadoran American Cultural Center, and another to study for his high school degree in the city closest to his village.

Thanks in part to Sheri’s interest and support, as well as the successful role models he was connected to and influenced by, Santos went on to study at and graduate from University and is now a lawyer working as an expert in cybercrime with the office of “Fiscalia” (Attorney General).

Santos has said that “it was through the Peace Corps Program that I met the person who changed my life and that of my family.”

I have no doubt that much of the credit for this success story belongs to Santos’ own resiliency, determination, and courage, but it was the power of human connection that provided the spark.

With today’s signing of this new country agreement, we are eager to get started.

Within a month, our Country Director-designate, Jaimie Kuklinski will arrive to work with local partners and colleagues to start opening an office and recruiting local staff. And there isn’t a better person for the job because Jaimie already served as Country Director here from 2009-2015. And then, by the end of the September 2024, our first cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers will arrive.

This is a truly exciting moment that many of us have looked forward to for a long time. And I want to thank everyone whose dedicated efforts have helped to make it possible.

Every Peace Corps Volunteer who has served here in El Salvador uses the same word to describe the strong bond they feel to the people in their host communities. That word is confianza. It’s a singularly powerful word to describe that deep feeling of mutual trust and respect that’s only possible when you believe in each other.

I cannot wait to see how the person-to-person partnerships, based in confianza, of Peace Corps Volunteers and the people of El Salvador will continue to strengthen and tighten the threads of the tapestry that binds our two countries together in the years to come as we work together to create opportunities for the next generation of El Salvador’s local and community leaders to unleash the potential that resides in each and every one of us.

Muchas gracias.

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